The Russian novelist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky stands at the very summit of Russian literature. No 19th-century writer had greater psychological insight or philosophical depth. None speaks more immediately and passionately to the mood and tone of the present century. This essay will discuss how Dostoyevsky's intent to portray a 'truly beautiful soul' manifests itself in the novel The Idiot, and access Dostoyevsky's success or failure in achieving his intention.
Dostoyevsky confesses in his letter to Maikov dated January 12, 1868 that his 'desperate situation' compelled him to resort to the fascinating and tempting, but nonetheless difficult and premature thought of portraying 'a wholly beautiful individual.' As a result, into Part One of the novel, which he started writing on December 18 and submitted in its full form on January 11 to the January issue of 'Russian Messenger', the 'beautiful individual', Prince Myshkin, was plunged premature and 'extraordinarily weak'. Dostoyevsky believed that 'beauty will save the world'1 and hoped to create a figure who could lead the many into the experience of the same inner peace and beauty that this character has achieved through grace.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot portrays a morally blameless man, Prince Myshkin, whose innocent simple nature and epileptic seizures cause him to be taken for a cretin. He is a man who is ineffectual because of his positive goodness. His Christ-like qualities, far from influencing those about him, are shown to be utterly incongruous in a sinful world. Nastasya Filippovna, who has been cruelly treated by a former lover, is attracted both to Myshkin and to the evil Rogozhin, and is unable to commit herself to either. When she is killed by Rogozhin, Myshkin's pacifism allows him to be an unwitting accomplice in the murder. This would suggest that Myshkin could not possibly embody beauty since he is ineffectual and destructive and ultimately inadvertently assists a murder of a physically beautiful woman. I will try to show in my essay though that although this is a deliberately pessimistic and truthful hypothesis, Dostoyevsky does portray a 'truly beautiful soul'.
The proposal of The Idiot is to expose the contradiction between worldly and heavenly values: a 'saint', like Prince Myshkin, is considered an 'idiot'. He doesn't see what everybody sees, because he has got his eyes set not in other people's faces, but in their souls. Just like the author, he is a psychologist: and a psychologist not only with a complete understanding of every individual's minds, but also full of compassion for each one of their failures. Once again, we see the triad 'compassion/forgiveness/love' as the main message of the book.
Prince Myshkin is Dostoyevsky's positive character. He is an ideal Christian and lives by the virtue of such ideals. He is compassionate, benevolent, patient and forgiving. He arrives in Russia at the age of...